South Island nurse says move to take away town's sole ambulance 'difference between living and dying'

St Johns is planning to scrap its ambulance service in Murchison.
St Johns is planning to scrap its ambulance service in Murchison. Photo credit: File

A South Island nurse is warning St John's plan to scrap her town's sole ambulance service will almost certainly end in death.

Currently, two paid staff members and a handful of volunteers run the ambulance in Murchison, which is located 100km from Westport.

However, St John is now considering cutting the service in favour of relying on support from neighbouring towns.

A PRIME (Primary Response in Medical Emergencies) nurse told Newshub she was particularly concerned by the changes.

"We are a middle of nowhere kind of town, one and a half hours from Nelson and Westport, three hours from Greymouth… St John's solution is to run ambulances from these towns when we have a call out."  

The nurse said that from when they arrive, the officers then have to assess the patients, get them on board and get them back to a hospital which can take hours.

She noted a recent call out where they were forced to wait for help.

"[I] sat on the side of the road with nine patients, two [of whom were] critically injured, for two hours waiting for backup [ambulance] to arrive from these other towns. Let me tell you this isn't a fun experience for anyone involved, both patients and medical staff."

The nurse told Newshub the proposal was "just not a viable option" and believes it will almost certainly end in death.

"It might not be straight away - but at some point, there will come a situation where it will mean the difference between living and dying."

Local news outlet Waimea Weekly reported on Thursday, more than one hundred local residents turned out to a meeting to discuss the future of the ambulance service and those who run it earlier this month. 

Simon Blakemore from Murchison and Districts Community Council said he was disappointed in the meeting as they didn't appear to be asking for feedback.

He told Waimea Weekly he got the feeling that everything was already "set in stone".

West Coast Tasman MP Damien O'Connor also attended the meeting and said operating the current service was "unrealistic".

In a statement to Newshub,  St John's Tasman district operations manager James McMeekin said their services rely on volunteers to support ambulance services in rural and remote areas where low workload does not justify employing staff full time.

"In Murchison, we have a historic local arrangement that has meant two people have shouldered the task of almost continuous coverage in the area," said McMeekin.

"As a responsible organisation we need to act to ensure we look after the safety and wellbeing of our people, and that any service we provide is sustainable."